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How we test printers

By Andrew Laughlin

Discover how we test printers to find great quality printers that turn out good value prints.

Put us to the test

Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

What makes a Best Buy printer?

Best Buy printers turn out good-looking prints, copies and scans and critically, they don't rack up high ink or toner costs.

Every printer goes through a barrage of tests in the Which? test lab to ensure that our printer reviews answer your key questions, including:  

  • Is it a cheap printer when it comes to prints?
  • Will it produce great quality prints?
  • How quickly does it print?
  • What’s it like for scanning and copying?
  • Is the printer easy to use?
  • Should I buy it?

Ready to print? Head straight to our printer reviews – or read on to find out more about exactly how our tests answer these questions.  

Faster, cheaper, better prints

Our tests highlight not only the best quality printer, but those that are quick and critically, the best value to run. Buying a Best Buy printer and buying your ink from a cheap ink retailer can save you time and money as our testing stats show. 

Do all printers turn out cheap prints?

Ink cartridges can be expensive, and there’s no way of knowing if a printer will be cheap to run just by looking at it.

Many printers automatically clean themselves when you're not even printing, using precious ink. Our unique ‘occasional printing’ takes weeks to run - and captures the cost of any ink used for automatic cleaning, so you'll know which printers will be cheapest to print with at home.

Best cheap printers to run - the printers that turn out good prints at the best price.

By weighing ink cartridges before and after our printing tests we can work out the amount of ink used for printing and lost on cleaning. The worst offenders use four times more ink when you leave time between print jobs, compared with printing the same number of pages in one go, cranking up your ink costs. 

Our printers total test score takes into account the cost of printing occasionally and the amount of ink printers waste. So you can be sure that when you buy a Best Buy printer you'll get cost-effective prints.

426%The amount of extra ink the most wasteful printer splurges when you leave time between prints.

How good is the print quality?

Top-notch quality matters when printing an important report or photos for your mantelpiece.

We test print quality for letters, photos and graphics pages containing charts and graphs and those made up of text and images - like a webpage. Our expert-panel assess and rate prints for colour accuracy, sharpness and overall print quality.

We even check whether prints will smudge under a highlighter pen or they'll smear if they rub up against something in your bag.

Get yourself a great quality printer with our Best Buy printers

Does it print quickly?

We’ve seen printers take more than half an hour to produce a single A4 photo print, while the best need just a minute and a half, and don’t compromise on quality. The quickest printers turn out 18 text pages per minute – three times more than the slowest printers.

We time the print speed of different types of documents, and how long a printer takes to turn out the first page after you switch it on. A slow starter will leave you waiting a minute and a half for your first page.

18.8 The number of text pages per minute turned out by the fastest inkjet printer

What’s it like for scanning and copying?

We put scan and copy functions under the mircoscope too. Our expert panellists assess scans and copies so we can judge how well the printers replicate the tones, colours and contrast of the originals. We also check they don’t chop off any part of the original as well as timing how long different types of page take to scan and copy from black text to photos. 

Is the printer easy to use?

From connecting to your home network and printing from laptops, tablets and smartphones to clearing the occasional paper jam, we assess how easy printers are to live with.

We check whether printers can automatically print double-sided to the same standard as single-sided prints without changing the format of your documents. And to avoid the frustration of being left with half of a printed report when a cartridge runs out, we check whether you can still print using the other cartridges while you wait for a replacement.

Should I buy this printer?

All our lab data is carefully analysed, so the highs and lows of every product are revealed. The aspects of a printer that are most important – print quality and speed – have the biggest influence over a printer's total test score.

We’ll never recommend a printer that's expensive to run, or one that can’t do the essentials to a high enough standard. So you can be sure our Best Buys are good quality machines that are affordable to run.  

Standard printers and all-in-one printers are rated slightly differently because of their different capabilities. The test score is made up of the following:

All-in-one printers/Standard printers

Printing ….............60%/75%
Printing costs …..20%
Scan and copy …..15%/0%
Networking …......5%

Both inkjet and laser printers need to score at least 70% in our tests to become a Best Buy. 


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